Friday, March 26, 2010

Letter from Kathmandu:
Promoting walking as sustainable transport in cities

Does anyone notice anything a bit strange in these two photos of traffic in Kathmandu Nepal on any typical day. To the left we have boiling Asia-style traffic propelling speeding high carbon males. While to the right we see a woman and a girl making their way as best they can by foot. Hmm.

Status of Pedestrian Infrastructures in Kathmandu City

- Charina Cabrido, Clean Air Initiatives for Asian Cities. Kathmandu, Nepal.

A study undertaken by Clean Air Network Nepal and Clean Energy Nepal (CEN) has revealed that pedestrian facilities in Kathmandu are in extremely poor condition and not user-friendly to physically disabled people.

The field survey was conducted in commercial, public transport, educational and residential areas covering a total of 48 road stretches with a combined length of 59 kilometers.

Based from the survey results, the walkability index of Kathmandu City is 559. When compared with other cities, Bangkok is 121. An index that comprises a single ranking number is regarded to be a more walkable city. Residential areas in Baneshwor Height, Kuleshwor, Khusibu and Lainchaur to Lazimpat has the highest walkability scores in the following variables; availability of walking paths with maintenance and cleanliness, availability of crossings per stretch, grade crossing safety, motorists obeying traffic laws and security from crime.

The commercial area in Ason road has the lowest walkability scores in almost all variables: availability of walking paths, availability of crossings per stretch, grade crossing safety, motorists obeying traffic laws, amenities, disability infrastructures and security from crime. It was registered that significant modal conflict in walking path mainly comes from vendors occupying the footpaths that make walking inconvenient. The Public Transport areas in Ratna Park and Kalanki have the highest number of pedestrian users and obtained the highest score in walking path modal conflict.

As a first step towards encouraging and helping cities improve their pedestrian infrastructure, the Asian Development Bank through the Clean Air Initiatives for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) and its partner network, Clean Energy Nepal (CEN) has conducted the walkability survey in Kathmandu City to collect data about the city’s pedestrian environment.

The overarching goal of the project is to improve pedestrian’s safety and mobility and promote walking as a sustainable transport. Prior to the survey, CEN conducted the walkability training in Kathmandu City last January 13 on fifteen youth volunteers known as Walkability Ambassadors. The training included a methodology in assessing the pedestrian environment based on safety and security, convenience, policy support, study area selection, city boundary, street selection, and time of day considerations.

About 305 pedestrian interviews were conducted to analyze travel behavior (time that pedestrians spend for each travel mode), pedestrian preference in terms of infrastructures, degrees of exposure to air pollution and socioeconomic profiles. Field survey forms were collected to examine road stretches around the city that includes availability of walking paths, motorist behavior, amenities, obstructions, and security from crime, among others.

When we asked pedestrians to rate the existing pedestrian facilities in the city, 46 percent said that the situation of existing infrastructures in the city is in its worst condition. There was no observed consistency in design in terms of width, height, and continuity of footpaths or road-crossings. A number of footpaths have meter width forcing the pedestrians to use the main roads. Other amenities such as lamp post and greenery occupy the footpaths and existing guard rails are in poor state. Pedestrian signboards and crossing marks are fading that gives longer waiting time for people to cross the other side of the road.

About 94 percent of all the surveyed road stretches has no existing facilities for persons with disabilities. In terms of improvements in pedestrian facilities, this is the utmost priority perceived by majority of the respondents, followed by improved street lighting and wider, level and clean sidewalks.

Almost 80 percent of the stakeholders and government respondents said that there are no clear laws on jaywalking, traffic calming and roadside advertisements. The Metropolitan Traffic Police claims that traffic enforcement is regularly being implemented. However, their data reveals that the total accident for the year 2065 to 2066 (Nepali Calendars) accounts for 2765 in which the total fatality is 137; the total number of seriously injured is 720 and minor injuries reported is 2448. Based from the results derived from stakeholder and government surveys, the main barriers in improving the pedestrian facilities include lack of awareness on the importance of pedestrians safety, polices and investment for pedestrian friendly infrastructures and guidelines, linkages of all authorities working on pedestrian issues, poor urbanization plan and weak agency implementation.

The strength of a city’s pedestrian network affects the overall pedestrian experience. In most countries advocating sustainable modes of urban transport, the methods of planning are redesigned so that these are integral part of the sustainable transport planning. Priorities are shifting towards less environmentally damaging modes and improved vehicle technology and optimizing the use of existing capacity

As a way forward, CEN wants to disseminate the results of the walkability survey in Kathmandu City and work on an integrated approach towards sustainable urban transport in the city. Beginning third week of March, various activities are scheduled as follows: Youth sharing sessions with students, Cycling Marathon, Training on UNEP Toolkit for Vehicle Emission Testing and discussion with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Physical Planning and Works and other concerned officials regarding planned initiatives in encouraging people to travel on foot. CEN believes that improving the pedestrian facilities has many societal benefits. More often than not, the environmental, social and economic development of the city is entirely dependent on safeguarding the key pedestrian routes.

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About the author:
Charina Cabrido is an environmental researcher, a writer and a cycling advocate who is working for sustainable urban transport in Kathmandu, Nepal. She is currently associated with the Clean Air Initiatives for Asian Cities, an organization that is active in 8 country networks and over 170 organizational members to promote and demonstrate innovative ways to improve the air quality in Asian cities through partnerships and sharing experiences. Charina currently leads the Walkability Index Survey in Kathmandu to promote improvements in pedestrianisation infrastructures and services. She is also active in developing mass education, awarness and media campaign related to Air Quality Management issues in Nepal through the Clean Air Network Nepal.

Editor's note:
Sometimes life is simple. If you want truly sustainable transport system, design it for females. All the rest will be fine tuning.

And don't worry. We will not stop repeating it.

Eric Britton, World Streets

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